France’s Geopolitical Calculations And The Biafra Question: Unraveling The Puzzle


In the previous part of this article, we explained at length the Biafra movement and the historical roots of the crisis. The ethnic divisions in Nigeria and the resultant tensions have had a lasting impact on the country’s socio-political circumstances. We also discussed how the Biafran leaders used the issue of malnutrition to gain political support overseas. So, it’s important to examine where the whole Biafra crisis stands today and what implications it can have for the future of Nigeria. Let’s dig deeper.
The current state of the Biafra movement

In recent years, the Biafra movement has gained renewed momentum, with the emergence of various groups and organizations advocating for a separate Biafra Republic. One of the most prominent groups is the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), founded in 2014 by Nnamdi Kanu, a British-Nigerian political activist.

As the director of a United Kingdom-registered radio station, Radio Biafra, he propagated Biafra separatism. He was also arrested in 2015, on treason charges, but was released on bail in 2017 and fled Nigeria. He played a major role in the insurgency in south-eastern Nigeria.

To quell the activities of the IPOB and curb secessionism, the Nigerian military also launched an operation, code-named Operation Python Dance II, in 2017, in the south-eastern region of Nigeria, where the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is based. In 2021, Interpol arrested Kanu again and handed him over to Nigeria. Kanu has also been a mentor to Simon Ekpa, another controversial leader of the Biafra movement, who was reportedly arrested recently at his home in Finland.

Simon Ekpa allegedly used social media to incite violence, and Nigeria’s government had previously asked Finland to act against him. Nigeria’s government has already proscribed IPOB and a court has designated it a “terrorist” organization. Regarding the general elections in Nigeria, the IPOB did not participate in the 2019 general elections and called for a boycott of the elections, urging Igbo people not to participate in the country’s politics.

However, the call for a boycott received mixed reactions with some heeding the call while many others participated in the 2023 elections in Nigeria. In a viral video, Simon Ekpa imposed sit-at-home and curfew on the South East and some parts of the old Eastern region during the election, but his call for a boycott was decried by many. For instance, the Igbo Elders Consultative Forum stated that anyone calling for a sit-in or boycott of the general elections would be treated and regarded as an enemy of the Igbo nation. The call was also denounced on the grounds that it would create fear and disenfranchise the community.

Role of France in Biafra

In the previous article, we informed our readers about France’s active support for the Biafra movement initially. France sent $30 million worth of material to Biafra and lent Ivory Coast’s President Houphouet-Boigny $3 million to aid Biafra operations.

According to some reports, France secretly armed Biafra, in a bid to weaken British and US influence in Africa. While, Nigeria’s former colonial ruler, Britain, backed the “One-Nigeria policy”, and covertly provided weapons and military intelligence. France’s tactic in this crisis was not to recognize Biafra diplomatically but to support its “just and noble cause”.

To sum it up, France also supported Biafra primarily to secure its own interests and gain an economic foothold in the oil-rich Niger Delta. Former French President De Gaulle chose a limited strategy for two reasons. One, if Biafra won the war, France would be Biafra’s greatest ally, and if Nigeria won the war, France could extricate itself from the situation relatively easily and re-establish relations. However, after initially providing support to the Biafra movement, France later had to withdraw its support for many reasons.

One of the most important reasons was the international pressure created by Nigeria’s government and other countries on France to put an end to its support. Further, France’s support to Biafra also strained its relations with Nigeria, which is a major supplier of oil to France and French companies had invested heavily in the Nigerian economy. Thus, France later ruled out any support for the secession of any part of the country and acknowledged that Biafra has no support.

France’s Ambassador to Nigeria, Denys Gauer, said that France would not in any way, work with any group agitating for the dismemberment of the nation. With France’s withdrawal of support, the Biafra movement lost a major western sympathizer that had supported it in many ways earlier.

There was a time when France used francophone states (Côte d’Ivoire and Gabon) as conduits and cover to provide unused stocks of weapons left from the Second War World to Biafra. In any case, Nigeria is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa with a large and diverse economy, and remains an important player in the continent’s economic landscape.

Apart from vast natural resources like oil and gas, it is also an attractive destination for foreign investments. Thus, seceding from such a country can prove to be counter-productive in the long run. Although many claim that the support for Biafra has waned in recent years, for example, the call to boycott the recent Nigerian elections did not receive as much support as the leaders would have imagined. Whether the Biafra movement will last long, given that countries are withdrawing their support, is a question we will answer in the next article.